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Int J Infect Dis. 1998 Jan-Mar;2(3):137-42.

Meningococcal meningitis among Rwandan refugees: diagnosis, management, and outcome in a field hospital.

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Department of Medicine, Hadassah Hospital, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem, Israel.



To study the diagnostic process, clinical course, and outcome of Rwandan refugees with meningococcal meningitis, treated in an Israeli field hospital in Goma, Zaire, in the summer of 1994.


Patient hospital charts and laboratory records were reviewed with critical evaluation of clinical presentation and diagnostic tests. Patients were treated as part of a disaster relief effort in a refugee camp experiencing several coexisting lethal epidemics.


A total of 65 patients were identified as having group A meningococcal meningitis. Latex agglutination test for Neisseria meningitidis soluble antigen in the cerebrospinal fluid was found to be a superior diagnostic tool, as compared to Gram stain, and at least as effective as culture. The mortality rate was 14%; mortality was markedly affected by co-morbidity (e.g., dysentery, pneumonia, and malnutrition).


The outcome of patients with meningococcal meningitis, treated in referral centers within a disaster area may be favorable, despite overwhelming coexisting epidemics, and may be comparable to that achieved in advanced medical facilities. Encephalopathy may be a diagnostic pitfall in the perspective of coexisting epidemics, requiring a high index of suspicion and routine lumbar puncture. The latex agglutination test is highly useful in achieving prompt diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis, in particular when sample handling for culture and microscopy is suboptimal.

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